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Spike TV and Ellen: Has Furniture Design Jumped the Shark?

Posted on January 23rd, by Andy Brownell in marketing & promotion, Projects. 3 comments

'The Fonz' as he prepares to "Jump the Shark"

‘The Fonz’ as he prepares to “Jump the Shark”

Anyone who builds furniture and consumes media has probably heard of two new television shows—Spike TV’s Framework and HGTV’s Ellen’s Design Challenge. These are television shows that have or will hit cable this season catering to a very specific niche audience. At face value for any serious furniture maker, reality furniture design challenges—with unrealistic timeframes to create and build original work—seem to be an anathema to serious craftsmanship and art. Not to mention the hosts wouldn’t be my first choice for bringing credibility and authenticity to the concept. I much prefer Common in his late and passing role as Mr. Ferguson on AMC’s Hell on Wheels over someone evaluating furniture design.

So that brings me back to my opening question: Has Furniture Design Jumped the Shark with the roll-out of these latest programs?

In short, no. I believe these shows are a good thing based on two very distinct and personal viewpoints.

First as a furniture craftsman.

While compressing the time to develop an original design and execute it to high standards is a compromise, my furniture friends shouldn’t snub the concept here. Going mainstream and down the reality show vortex doesn’t necessarily diminish the craft. In fact, I’d argue it elevates it, but not in the eyes of the furniture makers peers, but in the eyes of the broader public. This type of programming represents a huge boost for our craft and demonstrates what incredible talent is out there in the marketplace in all it’s forms. None of these shows participants should be seen as “sell-outs” or compromising the craft. For sure they are compromising the real-world design and build times, but it’s television, not the New Yankee Workshop.

A walnut and bungee cord hammock designed by Jory Bringham on Framework Episode 3.

A walnut and bungee cord hammock designed by Jory Bringham on Framework Episode 3.

The contestants are talented professionals who have given up their time to have a chance at winning the top prize of $100,000. If you need to understand this more, take a look at my personal favorite Jory Bringham from California. He produces stunning work in walnut, metal and cast concrete pulling from some solid Midcentury modern material, colors and lines. Vladimir Kagan, Louis Paolozzi and Wendell Castle all seem to have some level of influence on his work. And although it’s only in the third week, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict Jory as the winner of this competition. His design and execution just seems to be above the rest of the group.

Jory and the other contestants are giving it their all to not only win, but to show the broader public that custom made furniture and solid, original design is available to furnish today’s homes. This is good for anyone who builds and sells their work to discerning customers. I’ll take 100 furniture design reality shows over one single Ikea commercial.

Second from an advertising/media professional perspective.

Niche is the new mass, particularly when it comes to broadcast/cable advertising. Niche shows like this allow brands to associate their product with programming and content that caters to their particular audience and their interests. The name of the game in media today is to closely match your product’s attributes and benefits with the content of the programming you are buying. For football, everyone buys beer and needs insurance, so the big guys can afford to pay north of $500,000 + for a :30 second spot. But when you are a smaller player and a niche category, niche programming is a better option and more affordable (well under $15,000 for a :30 second spot).

This gives advertisers the ability to deliver their message to a consumer segment who is very interested in the program and products that complement the lifestyle of the show’s viewers. I’m willing to bet that a power tool company like Dewalt or interior decor brand like Benjamin Moore would have a lower cost of converting impressions to sales with ads bought on Framework than on Monday Night Football.

Niche programming also makes my job more interesting. More choices, better ways to connect brands with an audience and far more affordable to give them a presence (on TV or online) with programs that connect potential buyers in a more relevant way.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on Framework, Ellen’s Design Challenge or the overall mainstreaming of furniture design in the comments below. Bonus points for anyone who can successfully make a reference to Cousin Oliver (Brady Bunch) or Scrappy Doo (Scooby Doo).

3 thoughts on “Spike TV and Ellen: Has Furniture Design Jumped the Shark?

  1. I am totally on board with this as a way to get other people interested in our craft. My brother has been a hi-end chef for 25 years or so and admits celebrity chefs and Bravo’s Top chef have done a lot to elevate his line of work. I hope these shows are a starting point for others to jump on. Personally, I’m hoping Spike loses the rights to Framework b/c the reality antics seem staged and a really lame. Maybe that’s the Spike audience and hopefully Ellen’s show will be better.

    I live in Cleveland and Freddy Hill played a role in helping me get accumulated to the furniture/woodworking scene here when I left Cincinnati in 2011. He is not coming off well in the show and that feeds the idea that most of this nonsense isn’t real. Maybe I’m wrong.

    Great article Andy.


  2. Shawn,

    I’m not surprised how the editing is inaccurately depicting people’s real personalities. That’s the unfortunate magic of how those shows are edited, and helps with the ratings.

    I’ve had a relative also appear on a reality TV show, and the editing definitely skews “reality”.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. One of my former students is on the Ellen show.
    I don’t get cable and only heard about her appearance through the grapevine.
    I think the selection process has as much if not more to do with character and personalities of the contestants
    They have to get a mix of people with enough quirks to make the show interesting because ultimately watching someone meticulously cut dovetails or mortise and tenons alone can be a pretty dry topic for the layman. Throw in some drama or comedy from the participants and that can make the show more compelling to watch.
    By the way my former student fit the quirky requirement just fine.

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